Road Trips and Adventures

The first rule(*) of a road trip: always carry toilet paper.

Technically it doesn’t have to be actual toilet paper, and in the case of the past few weeks, it’s been the grotesque four-inch stack of napkins that the guy at Extreme Pizza gave me the night before leaving Richmond, California just before Christmas. I think I can say with some authority that that guy had no idea how far those napkins would travel, how useful they’d be, or the circumstances within which they’d be useful – but I’m thankful for them nonetheless. The combination of gut flora acclimatizing to the cuisine of a different culture, combined with questionable bacterial content in the drinking water (or perhaps from the ice cubes in the margaritas), alongside the fact that many gas station restrooms in rural Mexico don’t even have toilet seats, much less pristine rolls of fluffy two-ply… it all makes for an adventure.

(* Aaaaactually, the first rule of any adventure is “absolutely no dying”, a perfect rule drilled into my head by the lovely people at Ephemerisle, a yearly floating anarchist city-event that occurs in the Sacramento River Delta each summer. Dying puts everyone around you in a bad situation; it’s generally considered to be pretty selfish.)

s/v Little Wing
sailing s/v Little Wing with Trevor and Rob

Regardless, an awful lot has changed since my last blog post! I purchased another sailboat near the end of 2015, and immediately moved aboard, effectively cutting my SF rent costs down to about a sixth of what they were in my one-bedroom apartment in Lower Haight. Living (or rather sneaking) aboard in the Bay Area wasn’t simple, but combined with a work-travel schedule that had me out of town almost half the time and some creative couch-surfing, I made it work.

The new boat’s name is “s/v Little Wing”; a monohull this time, an Islander 34 — a stout little ocean-crossing adventure boat on which I spent a great deal of my free time in 2016 sailing in and around the San Francisco Bay. I intend to take her on a multi-year adventure up to Canada, then down through Central America, and ultimately through the South Pacific… but that’s a story for another time.

music studio
goodbye, music project studio

This post is about current and recent happenings, so that I get back into the swing of writing this blog on a more regular basis. This post is about my return to s/v TIE Fighter, and life in San Carlos, and some of the events that brought me here.

This post is only passingly about the facts that I’ve left my job with Dell EMC, sold off all the gear from my awesome music studio in Richmond and bought an old pickup truck off Craigslist.

This post is about the fact that currently I’m back in Mexico living on my trimaran, up a ladder in the dry-storage workyard (or Marina Seca), and that I’m working on her every day; I’m hoping to have her back in the water by February 10th, and hoping to cruise the Sea of Cortez for the rest of the winter.

Six Flags
Six Flags in the rain

The big move happened just prior to Christmas, and in a surprising turn of events, Miya joined me for the twenty-hour drive down to Mexico. In fact, she had joined me for another roadtrip out to Wilbur Hot Springs a few weeks prior, as a test of the “new” truck, to shake out any unexpected mechanical issues on some muddy back roads. We left Richmond a few days before Christmas, and headed down the I-5, taking our time to smell the flowers on the way.

The GPS led us south, but on a rainy Wednesday around noon, when Google Maps told us that we’d be looking forward to at least four hours of gridlock on the highways just outside of Los Angeles, we decided that our time would be much better spent on rollercoasters. We stopped at a nearby Six Flags – sparsely populated, due to the weather – and spent the day jumping from coaster to coaster and eating way too much sugar. I even tasted my first funnel cake! (verdict: too sweet, but I’m glad I tried.)

Mexico border
adios, suckers!

We left the United States on December 23rd, exactly one day before the rules of my NAFTA-issued TN Visa would have me in trouble with the federal government. The letter of the law states that a person with TN status is to leave the country immediately upon termination of employment, but the conventional wisdom is that you’ve got ten days to get your affairs in order before you’re legally in the doghouse. I took nine days, and even after crossing into Mexico I went back through to the US again to make sure that the CBP agents had registered that I’d left the country – it’s always wisest to take any border-related matters very seriously.*

(* Incidentally, you should alway, always wear a suit and tie in your passport photo. No matter how filthy and hung over and unshaven you are when you arrive at a border, no matter how third-world the country or remote the border crossing, a suit and tie in your passport photo says “I am a person of significance in my home country, someone who could potentially cause you a lot of paperwork”.)

christmas cactus
Christmas cactus!

Christmas was spent at a fancy resort hotel here in San Carlos, nearly breaking the budget at a whopping $52/night. A few bottles of sparkling wine, some exploratory adventures around the area, a few margaritas – we had a lovely holiday while doing our best tourist impressions. We picked out a Christmas cactus together, and decorated it with the results of a pre-border Target mission – anything to delay the emotionally-loaded task of returning to TIE Fighter, unpacking our former life together, and making hard decisions about what to do with all of the things.

Ultimately no big, sweeping decisions were made – though it was very clear to both of us that the connection that had kept us together for the six years we were a couple was still very much alive and well, and inasmuch as no new formal plans or agreements were made, nothing was ruled out either. It remains very much to be seen whether the very rich, very full lives we’ve built for ourselves over the two years we’ve spent apart could be compatible enough to have a future together, but I remain optimistic and will be traveling up to visit her in San Francisco at the end of January.

TIE Fighter in the work yard

After extending our stay at the resort hotel for another day of cartoons and sparkling wine, we finally buckled down and spent two days on TIE Fighter unpacking and sorting. One disappointment we encountered was the fact that despite being repeatedly reassured that the Marina Seca was a very secure spot to store a cruising sailboat, a few things had somehow grown legs and left the boat. Miya’s Sailrite sewing machine was the largest and most obvious missing item, followed by my mandolin, my busking loudspeaker, my binoculars and a few powertools. Interestingly all of the missing items had been stored very much out in the open, and the boat hadn’t been overtly ransacked – had the thieves searched a little deeper there were other valuables that I’m sure would have been attractive. I guess it’s to be expected given the circumstances, but it still felt like a huge violation of personal space.

Miya left back to California, and I spent a few days cleaning and settling in for a long month in the boatyard… but I was soon rescued by my friend France, who came to visit for New Years. I picked her up at the airport in Hermosillo and after a drunken New Year’s Eve spent barhopping around San Carlos, we left south on a roadtrip to Topolobampo to catch a ferry to La Paz.

If you only learn one word in Spanish prior to going on a roadtrip in Mexico, I suggest the word “topes“. It’s a seemingly innocuous word, but if you see a sign that says Topes on the side of the highway, that word means “brake aggressively or lose your suspension“. Topes means “speed bumps”, but in Mexico those bumps can be anything from little steel domes set into the asphalt to huge amateur-constructed concrete curbs across the middle of the highway. You basically have your choice – pay the steep tolls for Mexico’s (admittedly excellent) toll highways, or use the libramente freeways, which are somewhat older, often in disrepair, and regularly have huge topes for apparently only one reason: to make you slow down so that you might purchase food from a fruit stand or restaurant conveniently located at exactly that spot. One might wonder cynically which existed first; the tope or the restaurant…

It was a couple of hours south of Guaymas, in the middle of nowhere, shortly after one of these topes – one that I hit very slowly actually, since this is not my first goddamned rodeo – that my little truck suddenly began sounding like a MUCH LARGER and MUCH LESS MECHANICALLY SOUND truck. I pulled over to have a look, and found that the exhaust pipe leading from the engine to the muffler had cracked completely in half! A half-kilometer later we pulled (loudly) into a gas station to try to make a repair, and the attendant was less than helpful – since it was New Years Day, and also a Sunday, he explained that the chances of having any repair work done before Monday was out of the question.

repairs in rural Mexico
repairs in rural Mexico

We had a cup of coffee and a think, and decided to try asking at a nearby llanteria (tire sales/repair shop) for help. Using my rudimentary Spanish, accompanied by a lot of hand-waving and pointing, I showed them the problem. A young guy beckoned us to bring the truck around to the back of his shop, where he got right to work, jacking up the truck and arc-welding the pipes back together. He worked for about an hour and a half in total; France and I had a bet going on what he would charge us, with me guessing around 600 pesos ($30 USD) and her predicting at least 1000 ($50 USD)… but in the end he asked for 150 pesos ($7.50 USD), though I insisted on giving him 200 ($10). Gotta love Mexico!

boarding the ferry to La Paz
boarding the ferry to La Paz

Riding the overnight ferry was an adventure all in itself, as we hadn’t had the foresight to book a $50 “private cabin” with beds, since my pickup truck has a camper shell and a mattress in the back. Upon boarding the ferry, we were told that passengers were expressly forbidden from the car decks during transport! Any “public” seating with vertical space filled up immediately, staked out with blankets and baggage by locals, and we ended up sleeping the night shivering on the hard tile floor of the noisy ferry lounge as a live entertainer continued her song-and-dance act until well after 3am. Note to self: next time, make sure to bring blankets, pillows, or hell, even a hoodie – it gets cold at night in the middle of the Sea of Cortez in early January!

kites in La Ventana
kites in La Ventana

From La Paz, we drove an hour south to La Ventana, the kiteboarding Mecca of the Baja, where France had booked us into a hotel. We spent the next three days taking kiteboarding lessons by day, and drinking fiercely strong Baja-style margaritas at night, singing and playing guitar with new friends.

Even after a couple of days of lessons, I’m still not to the point where I’d be comfortable taking a kite out by myself, but I was able to get up on the board and ride for about thirty seconds at a time… but only in one direction! I was a skateboarder and snowboarder back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but that was before people really rode ambidextrously, and so I only ever learned to ride “regular foot”, i.e. left-foot-forward. On a kiteboard I was able to ride left-foot-forward repeatedly, but it took all my focus and concentration to try to ride right-foot-forward for more than a couple of seconds at a time.

protestor roadblock!
protestor roadblock!

After a few days of vacation in La Ventana, I was beginning to get antsy about working on TIE Fighter… but France was still having a blast, so she changed her flight home from Hermosillo to a La Paz departure and got a room for another night, and I left for the ferry. My timing couldn’t have been better – due to the President of Mexico’s decision to deregulate gas prices, protestors on the Baja had shut down the highways! I made it as far as La Paz before running into my first roadblock; six or seven tractor-trailer trucks parked across the highway, blocking all traffic.

Luckily I had budgeted a couple of extra hours to get to the ferry, with plans to stop in La Paz for lunch; I had to reroute several times down sketchy backroads, bypassing the highways, until finally reaching the last stretch of road to the ferry terminal. The ferry departure ended up being delayed for several hours, and I heard later that all sailings for the next few days were cancelled outright from the protests blocking fuel deliveries to the docks. Glad I caught the one I did!

Jamie and Darion
Jamie and Darion

I returned to the workyard and dug in hard, but luckily I was provided with a brief respite by my friends Jamie and Darion, down from Victoria BC, visiting family in San Carlos. Jamie had access to a couple of amazing Hobie Mirage kayaks – they’re pedal-powered, using fins modeled after dolphin tails, super fast and very easy to pilot – and managed to borrow a third one from a neighbour, and the three of us headed out on an adventure around Isla El Pastel.

We “paddled” a total of 12km (7.5 miles) without really even feeling it, running into tonnes of seabirds and a couple of pods of bottlenose dolphins on the way! I would jump on buying one of those kayaks, but they’re quite expensive and I think I’d be constantly worried about it having it get stolen at a dinghy dock.

BUT WHAT ABOUT TIE FIGHTER?!? How is she?? How well did she survive the hurricane?? What projects have you been working on in the boatyard for the past month?!

…well, that’ll be the subject of the next blog post. 🙂

Also, just as a footnote: since it’s now 2017 and blogging isn’t exactly the bleeding edge of internet technology anymore, I’ve branched out a bit. You’re welcome to follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, if that’s the sort of thing that floats your boat. Hah!

Anchor Lights

I remember once stopping a musician friend in Vancouver on the street to ask him why his previously-prolific musical output had stopped, and he replied:

I dunno man, I guess I just don’t have anything to say right now.

And that’s a pretty succinct version of exactly what I’ve been feeling for the past couple of years. It’s been entirely too long since I last wrote an entry here, for a variety of reasons, but those reasons are finally fading away. I think it’s time to start posting again.


TIE Fighter at anchor
TIE Fighter at anchor in Steveston, BC

This morning I opened my blog for the first time in many months, or perhaps actually years. Sitting in my ‘drafts’ folder, alongside a half-dozen other unfinished posts, was an entry from May 24th 2013 entitled “Anchor Lights”. Unlike most of the other drafts, some of which were pages long, this one contained a single telling sentence:

“This morning at breakfast, as I’ve done hundreds of times before, I flipped the little switch that turns off the anchor light – the terrifying part is that I won’t be turning the switch back on for while, and I can’t be certain just how long that will be.”

See, to understand this you have to know a little bit about anchor lights. According to international law, a vessel at anchor must display an anchor light after dusk; a single bright white light visible from all directions, usually at the top of the mast if the boat has a mast of any kind.

Practically speaking, very few boats actually follow the law, since leaving a light on all the time takes electricity and planning. As such, an illuminated anchor light often means the difference between an unused, empty boat being stored on a mooring field versus a well-maintained vessel, occupied by prudent seamen, cruisers, or live-aboard sailors.

To those in the know, a glowing anchor light says this place matters, this is a home.


Miya with a skipjack tuna and a new engagement ring
Miya in the middle of the Sea of Cortez with a skipjack tuna and a new engagement ring

A great deal has changed since my last post. Shortly after our kitten Alice died, Miya and I decided that our time in La Paz had drawn to a close, and so we pulled anchor and headed out to cross the Sea of Cortez in the TIE Fighter. Approximately two-thirds of the way into our first major crossing together I popped the biggest of questions, accompanied by a sailboat-friendly titanium engagement ring I had had custom made… and Miya said yes!

The crossing took ten days or so, and we spent the next few months living at anchor in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, meeting new friends and settling into a new community vastly different from our familiar cruising grounds in La Paz. We talked through our plans to sail south to El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua… but we slowly came to the realization that if we were planning on continuing our sailing adventures together forever, we’d have to deal with some old student loan debt – and better sooner than later – or we’d never have true freedom.

Cavern diving in a cenote in the Yucatan Peninsula, near the border to Belize

Realizing that our carefree days in Mexico were now numbered, we took the opportunity to rent a cheap car and go on an epic, insane road trip across Mexico, down the Caribbean coast, into Belize for a few days to renew our Mexican tourist visas, back into Mexico and returning up the Pacific coast. A whopping 7500km (4660 miles) of driving in total, sleeping in the car, tenting or staying in cheap hotels – that later turned out to be “sex hotels”, but that’s a whole other set of stories. Singing along with the iPod, we ate our meals out of a Coleman cooler and had constant adventures along the way. We visited Mayan ruins, river-tubed through vast cave systems, nightclubbed in Cancun, went cavern diving in Yucutan cenotes and scuba diving on the Belize Barrier Reef. We even talked our way into a few nights’ stay in the hot-tub/honeymoon suite of a completely vacant high-end beach resort! We made a great many amazing memories together, ones I will cherish forever.

When we returned to La Cruz I began hunting online for work in San Francisco, where the ongoing tech boom meant that we’d each have the best chance of landing decent-paying jobs so that we could pay off the debt in the shortest amount of time. After four weeks and twenty-six phone interviews – mostly done via Skype from the back room of a local restaurant – I chose the best of three written offers and committed to starting work at a cloud computing startup in mid-June 2013, just under two months later. We readied the boat, bid farewell to our new friends in La Cruz and began the long voyage north to San Carlos / Guaymas, where we’d drydock the TIE Fighter for the duration of our land-based adventures in the United States.

TIE Fighter hauled, trailered and on her way to the work yard
TIE Fighter hauled, trailered and headed a half-mile up the highway to the work yard

The passage to San Carlos took a couple of weeks, stopping first at Punta de Mita and then San Blas, where the tiny “jejenes (pronounced “hay-HAY-nays”, apparently Spanish for “chainsaws with wings“) ate us alive. The only thing that thwarts those tiny monsters is smoking them out of the boat with burning coconut husk! At least the fine mesh we carefully hot-glued around the bed – ineffective against the microscopic jejenes – was perfect for keeping out the clouds of mosquitos we’d later battle (and lose dramatically to) every sundown in the boatyard in San Carlos.

We continued, stopping briefly in Mazatlàn, staying a few days in the tiny town of Altata, and then pushing through hard for eight days straight until we finally reached the city of Guaymas, which was unexpectedly hosting some sort of large, noisy festival on the waterfront… we never did figure out what the occasion was. After a few days of rest and recuperation, we made the final half-day hop to San Carlos, where we settled into the bay for our last week aboard.

lines drying
every sheet, halyard and line from the TIE Fighter, washed and drying on the workyard fence

With the help of some amazing new cruiser friends (Hi Denny and Carla!) that we had met at a swap-meet in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle a few months prior, we sorted out the logistics of long-term dry storage. Denny found me a used trailer custom-made for a big Searunner trimaran like the TIE Fighter, and over email I arranged to purchase it – owning my own trailer made for much cheaper haulout and storage rates.

We stayed aboard in the bay for a few more sunsets, and on the morning of May 24th, I got up, made coffee and turned off the anchor light for the last time.

The TIE Fighter was hauled out of the water in an amazing four minutes flat – as compared with the forty-plus minutes at each prior haulout – and the trailer was pulled the half-mile up the highway to the ‘Marina Seca’. Over the next seven grueling days in the hot, dry work yard she was unpacked, sorted, inventoried, washed, packed up, oiled, drained, bagged, pickled, shut down and mothballed for what we told each other would be a year – or maybe two, at most – before we returned to our home, to our “little wooden box on the sea”.


TIE Fighter's first offshore sunset, a few miles southwest of the Straight of Juan De Fuca, September 2011
TIE Fighter’s first offshore sunset, a few dozen miles southwest of the Juan De Fuca Straight, September 2011


Miya and I lasted a little under a year and a half together in the big city. In the end it would seem that a relationship forged by adventure and tempered in salt water needs some sort of constant adversity to rally together against in order to flourish. City life, with its easy money and vibrant social scenes and minimal day-to-day hardships was not the struggle to which we had become accustomed. In the same trend we’d seen between us in less-active periods many times before, we soon found ourselves turning on one other.

In September of 2014, after a long rough patch, we finally came to a mutual impasse and ultimately parted ways. It was by many orders of magnitude the hardest breakup I’ve ever been through – it’s never easy, of course, but it’s doubly terrible to break up when both people still love each other deeply. No one could ever say we didn’t try our hardest to make things work – but nobody ever ended a relationship because everything was going great.

We sailed away on a winter’s day,
With fates as malleable as clay, but
Ships are fallible I say, and the
Nautical as all things fades away.

I do recall our caravel,
A little wicker beetle shell, with
Four fine masts and lateen sails
Her bearings on Cair Paravel

Oh, my love!
Oh, it was a funny little thing.
To be
The ones
To’ve seen!

— Joanna Newsom, “Bridges and Balloons”


Since the big split, as after my previous epic breakup ten years ago, I’ve been in a period of deep introspection and intense personal growth. This new chapter is still somewhat vague and unfocused – the TIE Fighter still sits patiently for me in Mexico, but aboard her waits a life rigged for two. The main (ie. financial) impediment to my return is no longer an issue, but after seeing a sad, single, middle-aged sailor or two slowly sinking into alcoholism in pretty much every popular anchorage I’ve ever stayed in (that’s literally what the song “Margaritaville” is about), I haven’t much interest in becoming another one of them.

For now life in San Francisco is stable, if a little ephemeral – I just can’t seem to shake the feeling that everything around me is temporary. Whenever I need to purchase something, I still stop and ask myself whether that thing will ultimately come and live on the boat with me, or whether it will be sold, given away or donated when I leave here. As a result, all of my purchases are either very-high-quality and long-lasting items… or cheap and disposable. My furniture is minimal and mismatched with almost no sentimental value. All of my worldly possessions here can be neatly sorted into two piles, where the ‘stays-in-San-Francisco’ pile is vastly larger, and the end result is a nagging feeling that I’m living in a hotel, or more accurately in a giant “yard sale” pile – the only thing missing is masking tape pricetags on everything. Very little about my cavernous one-bedroom apartment feels like “home” in the way the TIE Fighter did – there is certainly no anchor light glowing above at night, real or metaphorical.

Bay Bridge
the Bay Bridge in the sunset, as seen from the roof deck of the SF Mozilla offices

Of course it’s not as bad as I’m probably making it out to be – overall, San Francisco has been very good to me! I have a solid job and a steady paycheque, with enough coming in to put about a thousand bucks in the bank every month if I’m careful. I’ve got a great, fast-growing circle of friends who keep me very socially active, I’m fit and healthy, and I get out sailing often. I eat very well, ride my bike every day and practice archery regularly. I’m making music constantly, and even have a monthly paid guitar/singing gig at a bar in the Mission! There are a million opportunities to learn new skills here, and – let’s face it – the dating pool in San Francisco is incredible, even moreso when compared with Mexico… not that I’m even remotely ready to commit my heart to anything serious yet!

Still, I often find myself reminiscing about the many good times on the TIE Fighter – I used to love telling people “I’d rather be in a quiet anchorage dreaming of a hot shower than in a hot shower dreaming of a quiet anchorage“… and yet now, once again, I find myself in the latter category.

I miss Miya every day – she was an excellent first mate, a perfect road trip co-pilot and a fearsome partner in crime, and I truly wish we’d been able to mitigate our differences and plot a course for a future together that satisfied both of our needs. I have unending respect for her, and wish her nothing but joy and happiness in her new life.


So! A new chapter has already begun. Once again I find myself disengaged and ensnared in the rat race, though with vastly different circumstances this time, and with a known exit taunting me. There are still an awful lot of unknowns in my world right now though, and as such taking up writing this journal again would probably be an excellent way for me to quantify and track my progress.

There is nothing quite so exciting and terrifying as a blank slate. Should I cut the docklines and return to a simpler, eye-level life on a cruising sailboat? Should I sell the boat and embark on a new, greater adventure, perhaps in Europe or SE Asia this time?

…or maybe I just need to find my anchor light in San Francisco for a while.

Rest In Peace, Alice

Alice, opinionated as usual
Alice, opinionated as usual

A few months ago, Miya and I adopted a scraggly little Mexican street kitten, named her Alice, and welcomed her into our home on the sea. A scant five weeks later, she became sick and ultimately died. We were devastated – it was incredible to us just how deeply she’d ingrained herself into our family and our hearts. This post is her memorial.

First though, the back-story – when we returned from our visits to Canada and the US, respectively, I found myself making the daily trek back and forth to the public library in the Teatro de la Ciudad (known on our boat as “the office”) about ten or twelve blocks from the docks. One day I stumbled across a large-ish cage by the side of the road, containing a mother cat, six or seven tiny newborn kittens, a bowl of dry cat food and a litterbox. The cage was slightly out of the sun, but it was filthy and the mother cat was obviously malnourished, and even in the 36ºC heat (96.8ºF) there was no water in the water dish. I walked away, wondering about the situation – there was a veterinarian’s office across the street, but it was clear that this cage full of kittens was not actively being taken care of.

I can only guess at the motivations there – Mexico takes a bit of a dim view on cats, as unlike dogs they do not offer any real work in exchange for food, and as such they’re looked at as a luxury, or at the other end of the spectrum, a pest. Even as I write this, I know that when I walk home from the library today I will pass the flattened, dried corpse of a run-over kitten directly in front of a nice, well-appointed home – it has been there for weeks, and nobody has bothered to pick it up.

picking up Alice from the vet
picking up Alice from the vet

So why was this cage full of kittens shuffled off across the road, out of the way? I can only assume that they were letting nature take its course, to avoid having to care for seven kittens that may or may not have ever found homes. I stopped at the first store I came across, purchased a large bottle of water and returned to the cage, cleaning and filling the water dish. The skinny, dirty mother cat was incredibly affectionate, purring loudly and rubbing against me before attacking the fresh water with a fervour.

For the next few weeks I stopped in every few days, bringing water when the cats had none and noting sadly that the number of kittens in the cage was slowly dropping. At one point there were two kittens down – one obviously dead, with flies starting to swarm, and one passed out in the litterbox obviously too weak to move. I tried to tell myself that I was doing what I could for these animals – the cage they were in was a prison, but it also provided protection against the many roaming street dogs in the neighborhood, who would happily make a meal of the little guys given half a chance. Each visit, I hoped to see the kitten count unchanged, but the numbers continued to dwindle.

in the dinghy, coming home for the first time
in the dinghy, coming home for the first time

At some point we left for our visit to Wasteland Weekend in San Diego, and I told myself that if there were any alive when we returned, I would do whatever I could to provide a good home for at least one of them. The first day back at the office, I walked over to the usual spot… but the cage was gone! I looked around and noticed that it had been moved across the street, in front of the vet’s office, and I went over to take a look. The cage had been cleaned up and the water and food dish was full, but there were only two kittens remaining – a grey-and-white one, and a black one. I made arrangements with the veterinarian to come and pick up the grey-and-white kitten the next day.

When I returned with Miya, hoping to surprise her with a new kitten, the grey-and-white kitten was gone, the vet had given it away to the very next customer. I was annoyed, but willing to take the last of the litter – but Miya was hesitant. We’d talked a lot about the folly of having pets aboard and agreed not to have pets until we live on land again someday, and so we left, kittenless. Over the next few hours, however, she gradually came around to the idea and the next day we went after work to pick up the new furry member of our family.

Alice immediately made  herself at home, and offered her opinions on everything and anything. We had attempted to make the boat a kitten-proof environment, but we soon found out that there would be nothing safe from her explorations or critiques. Take for example this video, in which Alice discovers the Dia de los Muertos decorations and promptly destroys them:

The next few weeks flew past at an alarming rate – Alice accompanied us on a trip north into the Sea of Cortez, bouncing between anchorages and finally coming to rest for a week just shy of Puerto Escondido in a quiet bay called Bahia Candeleras. She seemed to really enjoy boat life, spending time running around the decks or going below to nap during the rough, rocky portions. We slowly trained ourselves to look carefully before jumping down the stairs into the cabins, as Alice asserted her ownership of the boat by sleeping wherever she damned well pleased… which often meant the middle of the floor in whatever room she occupied.

a pirate's cat for me
a pirate’s cat for me

It became clear that we’d taken Alice from her mother a little too early – certainly she was able to eat solid food and run around the boat. Still, we began to notice some behaviours that marked her as something of a unique cat… for one, she had no problem communicating her discontent vocally. Alice would make very well known her needs, howling in her tiny kitten voice for more food, or more attention, or less food, or less attention, or her will to be picked up and moved to a higher location, or a lower location, or… well, anything. She was incredibly vocal, and we quickly learned to distinguish between her cries for food over her cries for attention or assistance climbing the steeper set of stairs.

Another unique feature of Alice was her immediate recognition of the humans on the boat as other sentient beings, by making regular eye contact. I took this behaviour at such a young age to be a sign of intelligence, but I was later corrected by my friend Tom, who said that constant eye contact was another sign of her having been taken too early from her mother. Apparently eye contact is a taboo in cat society, and Alice had just not learned that. “Proper” or not, we enjoyed her eye contact and vocal communications greatly.

effective camouflage
in our bed, perfectly camouflaged

The less-welcome habit began a few weeks after she arrived on the boat – suddenly, as though a lightswitch had been thrown, Alice decided that she needed to nurse on us. No body part was safe – we’d awaken in the night to find Alice suckling on our necks, or arms, or ankles. We were as firm as possible in trying to curb this behaviour – it wasn’t damaging or painful in any way but hey, creepy. Eventually Miya offered up her favourite ultra-soft blanket, and somehow Alice decided that this would be her new suckling target – the blanket went into a shoebox and Alice began sleeping in that shoebox almost exclusively. The suckling on our necks and arms stopped overnight.

The end came quietly and without warning. We had sailed to the Isla Espiritu Santo with our friends Tom and Dan, and there was an incident on a Thursday in which Alice discovered a wedge of ‘Laughing Cow’ spreadable cheese and absconded with it. She was chased down, and when we attempted to take the cheese from her, she flipped – she went completely feral, with gutteral growls and all four paws flailing like windmills with claws outstretched. Taking this tiny wolverine by the scruff of the neck, I dropped her in the kitchen sink and turned on the water – she was shocked, and immediately stopped fighting and dropped the cheese. Alice spent the next few hours cuddling up to us, as though trying to apologize for her horrible behaviour.

obligatory cat-on-the-keyboard shot
obligatory cat-on-the-keyboard shot

Days later, on the Saturday morning, she seemed somewhat lower-energy than usual. She wasn’t yowling, but she seemed mostly normal, if a little tired… we let her go back to bed and went about our day. When we returned at 4pm however, she was noticeably weak and shaky, not at all herself. When Miya realized that her food bowl was at the same level, she asked when I’d last fed Alice… I hadn’t fed her in two days, and neither had Miya, and so Alice hadn’t eaten in at least a day, possibly more. Kittens need to eat about every three hours, so this was a very bad sign!

We took her immediately to the vet from whom we’d adopted, and the vet told us that Alice had some kind of blockage. She gave the kitten a suppository and told us to feed her canned tuna juice and a special energy gel for animals recovering from surgery, and to call her the next day if Alice hadn’t gone to the bathroom yet. Unconvinced, we took Alice home. When we examined her litter box closely, we found traces of aluminum wrapper – could she have eaten a larger chunk of the foil cheese wrapper?

We watched her carefully, like fitful parents, trying to get her to eat tuna juice and the energy gel – but at around 10pm, Alice stood to walk to her litter box, made it a few steps and collapsed. We immediately got on the VHF radio and polled the fleet, looking for recommendations of a better veterinarian, someone who could help us in our emergency. A call came back; a strong recommendation of a young local veterinary surgeon with excellent english and modern education. We immediately called her, then jumped in a taxi.

sad kitten on the way to the first vet
sad kitten on the way to the first vet

The new vet was amazing, putting Alice immediately on an IV of saline and glucose and trying several procedures to assist with whatever was blocking her intestines. We stayed with her until after midnight, until the vet said there was nothing further to do but wait and see if the procedures would take effect. She offered to take Alice home with her for the night for observation, and let us know in the morning how things went.

We went home and slept fitfully, knowing that our kitten was in the best possible hands and wishing with all our might that she’d recover… but in the morning we were met with a the worst possible news. An email arrived at 9am, saying that Alice had had a terrible night, and that she was not expected to live through the morning. In the vet’s opinion, she was now too weak to survive surgery, and as such she recommended euthanasia. With extremely heavy hearts, we discussed it and ultimately agreed.

Alice was perfect in her imperfections, and she made her way instantly into the hearts of any who encountered her, either in person or through Miya’s and my regular Facebook blatherings. She was opinionated and audacious, and brave until the end. We were able to take her in from probable death on the streets of Mexico and give her everything a kitten could possibly hope for – but sadly, our time with her was cut far too short. In five short weeks Alice changed our lives for the better, and we miss her deeply.

goodbye, Alice - you were the perfect sea-gypsy kitten
goodbye, Alice – you were the perfect sea-gypsy kitten

Catching Up, Part 4: Return to La Paz

Ok! Part four of updates, and then hopefully I can return to a more regular style of blog posts. I know I keep saying that. *sigh*. Without further ado:

gorgeous weather in La Paz
gorgeous weather in La Paz

The summer brought some intense weather shifts, including some of the first rain we’d seen since our arrival in La Paz in February – I guess I should have been tipped off by the cactuses and tumbleweeds, but the amount of precipitation here still took me by surprise. Once the season shifted into high summer however, the heat of the day combined with the extremely warm water (sometimes it would be 38º outside and the water would be 23º, warmer than most swimming pools!) made for some crazy meteorological events. We were treated with regular lightning storms and sudden shifts in wind speed and direction, not to mention a couple of hurricanes that narrowly missed us.

In this photo, a storm cell is crossing nearby to the south. At the time this photo was taken, the wind was blowing briskly towards the cell, but about five minutes afterwards the wind abruptly died and then within two minutes was blowing probably 40kn in the opposite direction! We were caught unprepared, and several items blew off the deck and I had to dash out in the RIB to retrieve them.


*sigh*. pay attention to polarity, Drew.
*sigh*. pay attention to polarity, Drew.

 While I was in Canada, I ordered a low-power Fit-PC3 computer to build into the walls of the TIE Fighter. The Fit-PC3 is a 12v-native computer very light on power consumption – set up with an internal SSD drive, it draws only  6w (1/2 an amp) at idle. I paired it with a two-terabyte external drive that automatically spins itself down when not in use, and am quite happy with the results.

Unforutnately, when I went to install the machine I didn’t pay close enough attention to the polarity of the power supply, and hooked the power connection up backwards. Immediately there was a flash and a pop and suddenly the air was filled with the acrid smell of burning electronics.

electronics repair on the new inboard computer
electronics repair on the new inboard computer

Fortunately I’m no stranger to electronics repair, and with a bit of research and an email to the manufacturers of the Fit-PC3, I learned that the component that had exploded was a simple ferrite bead, meant solely to keep stray radio-frequency energy out of the computer. This bead is just a failsafe, sort of like a fuse, and I could just ‘jump’ over the section with a bit of wire for the time being. An hour or so with the soldering iron, and the computer lives.

…of course, that computer also now lives in a cupboard with a strong radio. I still need to track down a replacement ferrite, as I’ve seen three crashes so far when I’ve keyed up the mic on the ham radio on certain frequencies.


a swarm of bees overtakes the TIE Fighter!
a swarm of bees overtakes the TIE Fighter!

One morning as we left the boat in the RIB to go for coffee, we realized we’d forgotten something at the main boat so we turned around. When we arrived at the TIE Fighter, we found the boat swarming with bees! We estimated around 10,000 honeybees in the air around the boat.

Not knowing what to do, we went for coffee and solicited opinions from a few other cruisers, who brought to light one very important point that we somehow hadn’t thought of… if the bees were to get inside the boat, they might not want to leave! We had to return to the boat immediately to close up the doors and windows, hoping that they hadn’t already moved in.


the bees, landed
the bees, landed

When we arrived back at the boat, the bees had landed… but outside. The internet tells us that this means the queen bee is somewhere in the middle of the literal pile of bees on the boat. We figure they were stacked six or seven deep in this photo! Fortunately, they decided that the boat wouldn’t make a great spot for a new hive, and within an hour or two of this photo they’d all moved on.


Miya's dirty knees from painting the decks
Miya’s dirty knees from painting the decks

While I went back to my day job schedule, Miya undertook the massive task of painting the TIE Fighter’s decks with anti-skid paint. We had collected a large pail full of white sand from a nearby beach, and then sifted and washed it, allowing it to dry overnight in the boatyard on a clean sheet of plywood. In the end though we decided that we’d get a better-looking result from “marmolina”; fine crushed white marble available at the local fereterias for about $0.50/kg.


the lights of 16 de Septiembre
the lights of 16 de Septiembre

The celebration of 16 de Septiembre (Mexico’s Independance Day) came along, and rather than hole up in our little box on the ocean, Miya and I decided to brave the crowds and go see the fireworks display. The display lacked a certain… safety standard? that we had grown accustomed to in North America – the main celebration was in a town square flanked on three sides with two-story buildings, and the fireworks were launched from the roofs of those buildings, exploding directly over the square!


more generator maintenance, this time cleaning the carburetor
more generator maintenance, this time cleaning the carburetor

Our Honda EU2000i generator has given us incredibly reliable service for the past four years or so, but apparently one should not leave it for a Mexican summer with a third of a tank of gasoline… when I went to start it up for the first time in many months, it would not start. I quickly realized what the problem must be, and using this very well-written step-by-step howto, I tore the generator apart and cleaned the carburetor. Just like that, the little Honda purred back to life.


Miya swimming with a school of something (sardines? herring?)
Miya swimming with a school of something (sardines? herring?)

The heat of the summer was intense and constant, and often we had to spend the hottest portions of the day in the water just to maintain our sanity! The underside of the TIE Fighter made for a convenient gathering space, and using a series of ropes and floating toys and platforms we created a place of refuge from the afternoon sun.

In this photo Miya is swimming with one of the schools of fish that regularly gathered under the boat. Actually, if I go looking I bet I have a video that might show the situation a little better:

Crazy how you can see them avoiding the anchor line! We’d like to identify the species of fish, and then see about catching some for grilling or pickling.

avoiding the heat under the TIE Fighter's wing
avoiding the heat under the TIE Fighter’s wing

Miya found an inflatable toy at one of the swap meets; three inflatable bladders joined at the center by a square of mesh, forming a floating recliner. This, paired with a Canadian Tire ‘Party Platform’ that we picked up on clearance just before leaving Canada in September 2011, formed the seating portion of the underwing. You can also see my Traynor TVM-10 cordless rechargeable guitar amplifier in the nets above, hooked up to an iPhone and playing appropriately chilled house music down into the watery tunnel.

flips off the TIE Fighter
flips off the TIE Fighter

Of course, with freshly-added antiskid on the topsides, the boat herself – having a good meter of freeboard – made an excellent water toy. Miya had only really learned to swim in the last year or so, but managed to learn to dive in one day!



She was so impressed with her diving that she decided to try her first-ever backflip off the boat also… to a little less success.


Mal serenading us on his banjo
Mal serenading us on his banjo

One of my absolute favourite parts about the cruising lifestyle is the willingness of the participants to pick up new musical instruments and throw themselves into learning. Our friend and neighbor Malcolm, an Australian vagabond living on ‘Wind Pirate’, picked up a banjo in a trade with another boater and within days was plucking away.


driving the long, lonely highway from La Paz to San Diego
driving the long, lonely highway from La Paz to San Diego

When we heard about the Wasteland Weekend festival in California, the idea immediately spoke to both of us – a four-day party in the desert, sort of  like Burning Man but more Mad Max themed, if that even sounds possible. With our Wilderness First Responder first aid certifications, we figured if they were interested in having us on as volunteer medics we’d kill a few birds with one stone; go on a road trip, pick up some much-needed supplies from the states, get some practical medical experience and go to a rad party! We rented a car and prepared to head out… but of course, what with it being hurricane season, a tropical storm had formed south of the peninsula and was threatening La Paz. We couldn’t leave the boat unattended until we were sure that it wouldn’t turn into a hurricane.

Fortunately, the system weakened, but not before dumping rain on southern Baja – and if you haven’t seen what a major rainstorm does to a desert, it’s a crazy thing indeed!

In this video, we have been stopped by a washout – the road in front of us has been replaced by a river of brown water flowing at a pretty fast clip. We watched as a compact car was swept a few feet sideways – but in the true spirit of “drive ‘er like a rental“, we decided to take the risk and we crossed. If you watch closely you can see water come up over the hood of the car at one point!


Wasteland Weekend 2012
Wasteland Weekend 2012

We arrived late to Wasteland Weekend but wasted no time whatsoever getting into the groove of things. Having come internationally we had no weapons to defend ourselves from the mutant / zombie uprising, and so we decided that we were clearly ‘wasteland aristocracy’ and as such had no reason to carry large weaponry of our own.


meeting the Party Hard Corps, fellow wasteland nobility
meeting the Party Hard Corps, fellow wasteland nobility

With this thought in mind it wasn’t long before we ran into some kindred spirits, fellow patricians of the aftermath, with whom we shared libations and cheer. The Party Hard Corps crew are a fascinating group of partiers, gamers and drinkers from the midwest, who like us traveled to the desert for a few days of debauchery.


winning the archery competition
winning the archery competition

There were many (semi-)organized events, including robot battles and jugger matches, but the one event I was most looking forward to taking part in was the archery competition. The rules were fairly simple – scoring was based on points awarded for your five arrows to a mannequin about thirty paces down a range. I was relieved to find they had bows available for loan, as I hadn’t owned my own bow in many years.

There were three divisions, for different sorts of bows: recurve, compound and crossbow. I can say proudly that out of about forty or so competitors, not only did I win the recurve division, but I also had the highest score over all three divisions – 28 out of a possible 30. The prize was a little disappointing however; a large black t-shirt. Not my size and I refuse to wear cotton t-shirts. In retrospect I should have taken the shirt and re-gifted it to one of the Party Hard Corps guys or something.

In case you’re wondering, we did stop at an archery supply store in San Diego on the way back to Mexico, purchasing two bows so that we can practice on the beaches. At some point in our travels we met a guy who swore by iguana meat; as we get further south we’re thinking maybe that might be a good source of free protein…


professional medical attention at Wasteland Weekend 2012
professional medical attention at Wasteland Weekend 2012

Our medical shift was Saturday night from 10pm until 4am – arguably the worst possible shift if your goal is solely to party, but we got enough of that in during the previous night and the Saturday afternoon, and as both the new jacks on the scene and late to the party to boot, we were happy to help out and glad to feel useful. We were surprised at how few emergencies there were, to be honest – the partygoers seemed to self-regulate very well, and aside from a few scalds from fire-show screwups and a few cuts and scrapes, we weren’t actually very busy! There was always something going on, but we never felt overwhelmed.


Miya at the San Diego Zoo, riding an eagle.
Miya at the San Diego Zoo, riding an eagle.

After Wasteland Weekend, we had a couple of days to spend in San Diego – we slotted one of those days to provisioning and shopping, but the second day was spent touring the San Diego Zoo. This was something Miya had wanted to do ever since we left Vancouver but somehow we hadn’t found the time during the two months we spent in San Diego back in December 2011. Many photos were taken, but surely if you’d like to see a photo of a giraffe you can find one on Google Image Search. 😉


Scott from s/v Sojourn displaying a feat of flexibility
Scott from s/v Sojourn displaying a feat of flexibility

After a long but uneventful drive back down the Baja Peninsula, we settled back into our routine by immediately having people over for another party. In this photo, Scott is demonstrating his ability to do a full split!

In the foreground of the photo, next to our friend Mike, is one of Miya’s margueritas, made in the “proper Baja style”. For a perfect Baja cruiser marguerita, combine:

  • one part decent tequila (100% agave only, José Cuervo is NOT acceptable!)
  • one part triple sec
  • one part freshly-squeezed lime juice

That’s it; serve with ice cubes if you have them. Do not blend. Do not rim with salt. Do not use lime bar mix or Fresca. Do not add simple syrup. Mix and enjoy!


catching fish and shrimp in the party platform
catching fish and shrimp in the party platform

Whoops – we left the party platform deployed under the boat while we were in the states! When we pulled it up, the side-pockets were full of life. If you click on this photo, you can clearly see the large fish at the top, and several big, transparent, shrimp-like invertebrates swimming around in the captive pool.


the new addition to the family!
the new addition to the family!

There’s a really sad story here – but before it was sad, it was a very happy story. We adopted a scraggly little Mexican street kitten and added her to our boat-gypsy family. I’ll tell the story of little ‘Alice’ in another blog post.


zombie walk La Paz 2012
zombie walk La Paz 2012

It turns out that the ‘Zombie Walk‘ phenomenon is wider-spread than we’d previously thought, and La Paz actually played host to an entire horror-themed film festival entitled ‘Morbido La Paz‘. There are few things that Miya and I like better than an excuse to get dressed up and silly, so we put together the best zombie costumes we could with our limited boat resources and shambled out into the town.

Best part: wandering around for at least an hour looking for the meet-up point for the zombie walk, soliciting help from the other boaters over the VHF radio and getting drastically contrasting reports of where to find the rest of the undead. Fortunately when we finally did find the other zombies, we found to our surprise that instead of the expected dozen or so fellow walkers/biters, we found a huge herd of probably two hundred! We moaned and shuffled our way through the night in search of cerebros


Alice assisting with the refrigerator build project
Alice assisting with the refrigerator build project

One of the things we brought back to La Paz from San Diego was a long-coveted item – an icebox conversion kit which would turn our little built-in icebox into a proper refrigerator, complete with freezer! The kit cost an arm and a leg, and came as a box of parts and a series of cryptic instructions, including a bunch of crazy tool requirements. I had to track down someone in the boating community who would be willing to loan me an industrial vacuum pump and a set of refrigerator manifold gauges. As it turned out, none of the tools were far away and even though the build took much longer than expected, our friend Bill on s/v Wandering Puffin was a huge help in getting the system up and running.

Now, for the first time since moving aboard in 2009, we have the ability to store food for longer than a couple of days at a time! What a huge step forward… though admittedly so far my favourite use of the fridge is making ice cubes. Sill though – just because nothing in our world can ever be completely normal – the fact that our fridge is a top-loading icebox means that we’re forced to use an expensive vertical ice cube tray.

going-away party at the Libertatia apartment
going-away party at the Libertatia apartment

One of the sad facts of cruising life is the realization that no matter how much you like your new friends, everyone is traveling, and sooner or later we all have to pull up the anchor and move on. This photo is of some of our friends from the summer; Malcolm and Lowell left on s/v Libertatia for California, arriving recently in San Francisco, and Mike and Nia left La Paz for Mazatlan in their boat s/v Azul, making it across the Sea of Cortez without incident… and without an engine!

Well, I think that pretty much brings us back up to current. More updates to come soon!

Catching Up, Part 3: Vancouver and Burning Man

Part three of four updates, in which Our Intrepid Adventurers finds themselves traveling back to Canada and Oklahoma, respectively, for six weeks. The shared camera bit the biscuit, and hence this blog post will be relying mostly on the kindnesses of others to document the happenstances throughout. As a direct result, this post probably has the most photos of me of any blog post in the recent past!

Miya had obligations in Oklahoma, while I had obligations in Vancouver, and so we spent a solid month apart – the longest we’d ever been apart, by far. I had a wedding to attend, and a month later I had another show to promote (Sequential Circus 11), so it made very little sense to leave La Paz and come back only to leave again weeks later. I booked a month’s stay at the Hotel Mike & Nicola and prepared myself for a month of splendid Vancouver summer.

photo by EspressoBuzz
playing guitar at Dave+Lori’s wedding – photo by EspressoBuzz

The wedding couple are somewhat fans of my music, and as such I was invited to perform not once, not twice, but THREE distinct times during their epic three-day wedding affair out on a beautiful farm on Vancouver Island. Here I’m performing during their Friday evening talent show, using a rental guitar.

I learned a valuable lesson in this photo – I had warmed up a couple of original songs and a couple of covers, and intended to ask the audience what they’d prefer to hear. I figured I had about an 90% chance that they’d say “originals”, but had a few songs in reserve just in case. So, I hit the stage.

Do you want to hear some originals, or some covers?” I asked.

BRITTNEY SPEARS!!” came the overwhelming reply.



what happens when you put dry ice in beer
what happens when you put dry ice in beer

During the reception, I was able to solve a lifelong dilemma – we all know that dry ice in warm water creates whitish smoke that bubbles and falls, but what happens when you add dry ice to beer?

Result: non-stop cold bubbles full of white smoke, and a mess. At least with Philips Longboat Chocolate Porter, the mess was delicious.


playing techno at Dave+Lori's wedding
playing techno at Dave+Lori’s wedding – photo by EspressoBuzz

The second performance was to play a seven-minute rendition of Eddie Vedder’s “Rise” on the mandolin, while the bride, groom and wedding party made their way slowly down the aisle. This was trickier than it sounds, since the original song is only about two-and-a-half minutes long… a few double-length bridges and an extended outtro and everyone was happy with the results.

This photo, on the other hand, is of the third performance of the weekend, a forty-minute return to the techno of years past, when I used to perform as ‘MUX’ at raves, clubs and techno parties. The outdoor venue was perfect for the style, and with the help of Jim Baxter’s homebuilt laser effects rig, the dancefloor got properly techno’d.


playing techno at Trancemission 15
playing techno at Trancemission 15

Two weeks later (including a rejuvenating weekend at Bass Coast out in Squamish), I was invited to perform a set at Soundproof’s annual summer party, Trancemission 15 in Pemberton. Miya actually flew up from Oklahoma for the weekend, and it was an extremely nice time spent with close friends, dancing outdoors in a farmer’s field.

In this photo you can clearly see my new live-pa rig, comprised of my Macbook Pro computer attached to a Livid OhmRGB MIDI controller. The OhmRGB is a fantastic bit of hardware, though intensely geeky – it can do almost anything, but you really have to program it all yourself in Python!

I also was very happy to resurrect my Nord Micro Modular synthesizer – the size of a VHS tape, it’s the perfect hardware synth for a boat… the only downside was that the software programming interface has not kept up with the times, and I had to build up a Windows 95 image in VMWare in order to program it. Installing Win95 for the first time in sixteen years was a serious flashback!


more techno, this time Sequential Circus 11
more techno, this time Sequential Circus 11

Our bi-annual electronic music concert series event Sequential Circus 11 went off without a hitch, and this time I also booked myself. I shared a stage with five other talented live electronic musicians, performing to a packed house of about 150 people in a warehouse in East Vancouver. The crowd ate it up, and this was absolutely my favourite performance of the summer! Here’s a third-party review, if you’re interested.

I managed to get a good recording of the set also – click the orange play button to have a listen:



It’s worth pointing out, in case you’re unfamiliar – this sounds like DJ music, but I’m NOT A DJ. DJ’s play other peoples’ music; everything I play I wrote myself, using synthesizers, drum machines, effects and software.

Drew and Trent at Burning Man 2012
Trent and I at Burning Man 2012

I didn’t think I would be able to make it to Burning Man this year, due to finances, but a surprise windfall from the tax man put me back in the black and when a ticket appeared within my reach I jumped at the chance.

It was great to hang out with good friends like Trent again, whom I hadn’t seen in months!

The bright orange pants I’m wearing in this pic were ordered from Mascot, a Danish workwear company that recently opened up their distribution to the United States. I’ll be doing a blog post on pants soon; I have a lot to say on the matter.


the Hajj, almost ready for licensing
the Hajj, almost ready for licensing

Miya, having similar financial constraints to myself, had decided earlier on that she wanted to attend Burning Man this year, and signed on with a group called ‘Sacred Cow’, who were building a camp of about a hundred and twenty people! This kind of camping requires some serious infrastructure, and in exchange for a free ticket and a ride to and from the desert, Miya agreed to show up in Seattle two weeks in advance, to spend a week in the city preparing supplies, a week setting up in the Black Rock Desert before Burning Man even started, and a few days in the desert after the event helping to tear down the camp!

Sacred Cow was a large camp with a middle eastern theme, and one of their bigger projects was a full-sized bus called “The Hajj”, which was to be decorated like a bedouin tent and driven slowly around the desert. When I arrived, the first thing Monday morning I was assigned to a group working on getting the Hajj ready, and that project pretty much occupied the majority of my time for the next two days.

Where it got interesting was when we finally finished applying all the decorations – mostly fabrics attached to the bus with a large steel railing and series of PVC tubes – and went to the Department of Mutant Vehicles to apply for our permits. We were about 90% of the way through the inspection when a sudden windstorm came up… and the nylon tie-straps we’d used to secure the PVC pipes (I had asked for lashing wire, and someone was sent to Reno to buy some… but wires were crossed somehow and he returned with twine) started to break apart. Pieces of the Hajj started blowing across the playa, one narrowly missing one of the DMV inspectors.

You know we can’t in good conscience give you the permit the way things currently are, right?“, he said. “Go back to your camp, sort this all out, and come back later to get your permit.

Fine, fine. That’s what we did.


Miya with the road sign she broke off
Miya with the road sign she broke off

…but the travel back to the Sacred Cow camp wasn’t without incident. Even with spotters on the roof of the Hajj and walking ahead and communicating with each other via handheld radio, driving a heavily-decorated bus around the crowded streets of Burning Man is no cakewalk. Miya, one of the only three people ‘certified’ to drive the bus, took a corner a little too sharply and broke off one of the road signs. Here she is posing with her trophy, right before I tracked down some long wood screws and a cordless drill and made the appropriate repairs… those roadsigns are a critical part of finding your way around in a temporary city of 50,000 people.


Jacob atop the Hajj
Jacob atop the Hajj

Jacob Stone, Miya’s closest friend in Seattle, was really the reason Miya got on with the Sacred Cow group in the first place. This was Jacob’s first year actually getting to stay at Burning Man, though he’d been there for the week-prior setup in 2011. Miya and I shared a hexayurt with Jacob, a desert-proof hexagonal structure made from panels of polyisocyanurate – I know this word because it is printed on the inside panels of the yurt, and I took it upon myself to memorize it! The yurts are essentially panels of insulating foam held together with industrial duct-tape, and very little else past that.

I have to say, this was my seventh time at Burning Man, and my first not camping in a tent. I was a little suspicious of the hexayurt movement, but after sleeping past noon on several occasions, I’m convinced that they’re the best, most comfortable sleeping setup for Burning Man. Miya actually built several of the camp’s hexayurts as a part of her advance-team projects for Sacred Cow.


Drew, Miya and a spork
Drew, Miya and a spork

This photo is pretty much representative of your typical Burning Man day-outing – of  note in this photo is Miya’s bird-skull headdress that she made in the days following the boatyard, using her new-found fiberglass skills. She made a mold of the skull using tinfoil and masking tape, sprayed it down with Pam cooking spray and then laid up fiberglass over top. Some cleanup work with a Dremel tool and some added flowers later, she was left with the work of art you see above.

The spork is unrelated.


random pro-photographer shot
random pro-photographer shot

At the 3:00 Keyhole, we stumbled across a professional photographer, shooting some kind of large-format Polaroid-type film, where the photo was taken and available for viewing seconds later. He had a gorgeous gallery of photos set up outside, and almost no lineup, so Miya and I jumped at the chance. This has been my profile pic on Facebook ever since!



an afternoon bartending at Distrikt
an afternoon bartending at Distrikt

One of my favourite parts of Burning Man is working the bar at Distrikt, and this year was no exception… Distrikt is known as the premiere daytime dance party, and at peak times during the week you can expect about 5000 people dancing in the sun in front of a 30,000w sound system, with beautiful girls on towers brandishing power-washers full of ice-cold water spraying down the dancefloor.

This year was my third year working the bar, and I was brought on as a shift manager, in charge of a group of eight bartenders, four “bar-backs” running supplies to the bartenders, and two people whose sole task was dealing with the MOUNTAINS of recycling generated by this incredibly busy bar.

To give you an idea of the scale, behind the bar we had two tractor-trailers full of booze, including 360 bottles of Bacardi, 600 bottles of vodka, 3,600 cans of Red Bull and 14,400 cans of Dos Equis beer, among other things. MANY other things. Furthermore, the exchange of money is not allowed at Burning Man, so all of our drinks were given away for free – you just have to bring your own cup.

Admittedly though, this year I felt a bit of a disconnect with my Distrikt ‘crew’ – in the two years since I’d been a part of the bar, the camp has grown significantly, and there were only a couple of folks I felt really connected to. I showed up for an unscheduled bartending shift at one point, and worked a solid five hours right beside a young lady, slinging drinks and bantering with the “customers”. Finally when the bar ran completely out of ice with only an hour or so to go I threw in the towel, walked to the other side of the bar, and tried to get that fellow bartender to make me a drink. She looked at me blankly, and told me I’d have to go to the ID Check to get a stamp before she would serve me. I was flabbergasted – we just worked side-by-side for five straight hours, and without my even leaving the bar you don’t recognize me at all?!? I acquiesced, and went to the ID Check… who also did not recognize me, and wouldn’t even believe I was a part of the bar until I pulled them aside and showed them my name on the bar schedule.

Clearly it was just a symptom of the massive turnover that we as bartenders see at the the bar – but still, sadly, I definitely felt more at home with the Sacred Cow camp than with the Distrikt crew this year.


With at least a dozen friends hitting the playa for the first time this year, and the preliminary weather reports showing the Black Rock Desert to be exceptionally dusty, I found myself dishing out dust-survival advice to anyone who’d listen… but soon I found friends referring their friends to me for guidance, and after the second “Hi, you don’t know me but so-and-so gave me your number…” phonecall I decided to take a couple of hours and put together this video, showing off my technique for surviving the dust, a combination of the 3M 9211 dust mask, a pair of ski goggles and a ‘shemagh’ or ‘keffiyeh’ scarf.


riding bikes around the playa
riding bikes around the playa

In this photo, we’re out during the day riding around in comfort in our protective dust gear. Fortunately the playa wasn’t nearly as dusty as expected – the word “Dustpocalypse” was bandied about quite a lot before the event! – but there were still regular whiteouts on the open playa, and lots of folks were wandering about with little or no protection.

Even though I was conscientious about wearing my protective gear whenever needed, I still broke one of my own recommendations and forgot to bring saline nasal spray. As a result, by the end of the week my nasal passages were cracked and bleeding, all the way back to my throat, and it took about two weeks back in the regular world before they went back to normal.


Miya's favourite art, "El Pulpo Mechanico"
Miya’s favourite art, “El Pulpo Mechanico”

This photo shows Miya’s favourite art car, a gigantic, rolling, rusty, robotic flaming octopus called “El Pulpo Mechanico”. El Pulpo would roll slowly around the desert, stopping occasionally (usually near an audio installation, in this case a soundcar called ‘Heart Deco’ playing most excellent house music. We stopped here to dance for an hour while on a wonderful evening out with our friends Chris and Angela.

If you’d like to see El Pulpo Mechanico in action, here is a video (not my own!).


returning to La Paz, old and new flags
returning to La Paz, old and new flags

Burning Man came slowly to a close, and we finally returned to the TIE Fighter, after just over six weeks away. I had noticed the Canadian flag getting a little bit ratty before we left, and so I ordered a few extras while I was in Canada – just in time, apparently, as the former flag had torn itself to ribbons while we were away!


the remains of the garden
the remains of the garden

Sadly, the guy we had hired to check in on the boat and water the garden found himself another job while we were away, and was only able to drop in a few times in the later half of our vacation. The garden did not survive. Miya has since re-planted, and so far her dwarf Siberian kale has shown the most promise… more to come on the garden soon.

Well, that concludes the third update – one more to go and we’ll be back up to date!